How Is Productivity Affected When Employees Set Their Own Schedules?

In some professions, a strict work schedule is imposed upon an employee by virtue of their job.   For example, a teacher is guided by their students’ timetable and a train driver must depart the station on time. Outside of these frameworks, a company may set guidelines for working but generally, employees will be given some freedom to set their own work schedule as long as deadlines are met.

A study to be published in ‘Management Science’ has been investigating whether this individual schedule setting has an impact on employee productivity.

Why do employees choose to deviate from company policy?

People tend to favour one type of work over another and although this varies between individuals, we usually choose to save the worst until last. This is a common reason for deviating from the norm in the workplace. We may also choose shorter tasks first so that we can see more check marks on our ‘to do list’ before tackling the larger tasks. Checking off a quantity of jobs can feel more satisfying and reduce the stress of looking at a long list of things remaining. We may also batch together categories of similar tasks to work on to keep us in the same mind-set. Logically, this may appear to be the most efficient approach. Having this freedom to choose the sequence of our tasks and set our own schedule is an approach favoured by most employers. It gives employees autonomy and a feeling of empowerment which is encouraged. Flexible working patterns and mobile devices make this increasingly possible for many people. However, new evidence suggests that increase in flexibility may be fuelling a drop in productivity.

Why does productivity decrease?

The study indicated that an employee who schedules their own tasks will show a decrease in productivity. Whilst this change of pace doesn’t always affect the quality of work, it does cost businesses money. Time costs money. Interestingly, an employee who sets their own schedule is not necessarily any less efficient than they would be if they observed company policy but they will take longer to choose between one task and another. If a scheduling policy is followed, then no time is taken to consider the options, the decision has been made in advance on the employee’s behalf. This is not to say that a company’s schedule is always the most efficient solution. Allowing some deviation from the schedule may allow for innovation and improvement.

We have identified the fact that autonomy and freedom over the timetable of a working day is a good thing for employees, offering them a feeling of independence and empowerment. However, we have also learned that this autonomy could be costing your firm money. It is ultimately a trade-off between the two things. Which will add the most value to your organization? Happy and motivated staff or a workforce operating at maximum efficiency?